Chicago’s first climbing gym, First Ascent (@FA_Climbing, 3500 N. Spaulding) is expected to open just north of Logan Square near the intersection of Kedzie and Elston Avenues, sometime between December and February. The 55-foot-tall, world-class climbing and full-body fitness facility will address the demand for a dedicated climbing gym in the city of Chicago.
Gym To Be Among Tallest in the Country
First Ascent was conceived by Chicago climbers Dan Bartz, Jon Shepard and Joe Zentmyer, who saw the need for a dedicated climbing gym in Chicago and decided to take action.
At 55 feet tall, the First Ascent facility will join the ranks of the tallest gyms in the country, with 26,000 square feet of climbing wall and 5,000 square feet of bouldering wall designed by Walltopia. The gym also will feature full body fitness equipment, including weights and cardio machines, a yoga studio, a pro shop, a multipurpose room, locker rooms and a cafe that will serve light fare such as coffee and smoothies, which the team hopes to get from local restaurants and food vendors.
According to facilities director Dan Bartz, the Logan Square and Avondale neighborhoods offer “such an amazing place for restaurants and coffee shops. There’s a lot of development and creativity in that space, so we’re excited to be a part of that.”
Chicago Needs A Dedicated Climbing Gym
Chicago is home to a passionate group of climbers who are accustomed to traveling far for the sport they love. Although there are smaller climbing walls at fitness centers throughout the city that climbers can use to train, there is no large facility equipped to serve the entire climbing community.
First Ascent “wanted to create something that serves and grows that community,” says Bartz.
“I think the reason why we were successful in this is because we really harnessed the power of community in Chicago,” says Joe Zentmyer, finance director. He explained that one of the biggest hurdles in seeing the project through has been getting investors interested in supporting the gym; since no one has built a climbing facility in Chicago before, many people don’t understand that there is demand for one.
The team also speculates that expensive real estate prices have so far kept a climbing gym out of Chicago. Although there is plenty of warehouse space in the city, most of the buildings are not tall enough and would require expensive construction to raise a structure’s roof.
Instead, the First Ascent team purchased a plot of land and will build a simple warehouse building.
Although the new gym will serve as a world-class workout facility for advanced climbers, it also will make the low-impact sport accessible to a wide range of ages and ability levels, and will organize programs and teams designed to help youth learn confidence, risk-taking and teamwork through climbing.
According to business director Jon Shepard, the team is committed to educating climbers about the importance of outdoor awareness. First Ascent will help prepare the new climbers it will create in the community to respectfully interact with nature during outdoor climbing excursions.
“We hope it will be a scene … a little bit of an epicenter for people who enjoy urban-adventuring,” says Shepard.
First Ascent’s Logan Square Roots
All of the First Ascent founders have full-time jobs, and have had to spend the last three years planning their business during their spare time in favorite spots around the neighborhood. They worked on their climbing wall design from a laptop at locations all over Logan Square and Avondale, including The Radler (@dasradler, 2375 N. Milwaukee), Gaslight Coffee (@gaslight_coffee, 2385 N. Milwaukee), New Wave Coffee (@newwavecoffee, 3103 W. Logan), Kuma’s Corner and Chief O’Neill’s.
Last Thursday evening the team hosted a sneak peek event for the climbing community at Revolution Brewery and Tap Room (@revbrewchicago, 3340 N. Kedzie), where guests were invited to preview renderings of the First Ascent climbing walls and share in their excitement for the new gym over complimentary beer and snacks. In the coming months, the team plans to host more events at Revolution Brewery and Chief O’Neill’s as progress is made toward their long-anticipated opening.
“Our goal is to connect with as many local businesses as possible so we can support one another and create opportunities to share in all the great things that are going on in the Logan Square community,” says Bartz.
Construction for the First Ascent building is slated to begin later this summer.
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